Harry and Jane

We are hard at work, pulling together a new issue on the many paths people take to find truth, and the articles in this particularly lively issue range from sacred music to the spiritual home that is Harry Potter.

Lately, I find myself pondering the similarity between Harry Potter and Jane Eyre. Jane, as some of us may remember (and as I am rediscovering) was an orphan who is grudgingly taken in by a resentful and nasty aunt. Little Jane is as viciously bullied by a fat spoiled cousin John as Harry was by Dudley, and is as wretchedly excluded and unloved by the whole family—she listens to Christmas parties while shut up in a little cupboard with only a doll to love. By her own admission (told many years past childhood), Jane isn’t as sweet or as loveable a child as little Harry. She is completely opposed to her adoptive family, “incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment….”

She doesn’t receive an invitation by owl that affirms what she knows in her heart to be true, that she is indeed very different than those around her. She is not whisked away to Hogwarts but to a wretched school called Lowood. And yet she finds in the depth of her misery, a spirit and a self awareness and self-acceptance that work a kind of magic. Banished to boarding school, abused beyond all endurance, she at last confronts her aunt as children never did in the Victorian age, calling her bad and hard-hearted.

“Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.” Even though Jane later feels that this act of vengeance was like a sweet but poisonous wine, it is as necessary to her future development as Harry’s rollicking escape from his tormentors with its dash of sweet revenge.
As Jane’s nurse Bessie tells her, at least some of the scolding that comes to her is “because you’re such a queer, frightened, shy little thing. You should be bolder.” If you cringe and dread people, if you hide yourself “they’ll dislike you.” Jane and Harry both have to learn to affirm and express themselves.

“You have to be someone before you can be no one,” this statement is repeated in Buddhist circles, and it is equally applicable in Christian, yoga, Gurdjieffian or any other kind of circle dedicated to inner development. It seems like the biggest paradox. If the goal of spiritual life is to be liberated from a sense of separation from life, why value separating, becoming individuals? Why not stay in the cupboard and skip straight to transcendence?
What is the value of affirming a self, identifying the life force as our own—of getting out there in the world and proclaiming ourselves and struggling and trying? We need to really be ourselves, to really live without holding back, or nothing can really be known.   Transformation is not a thought. It is a drama that must be lived.  Also–and I’m really interested in what you think of this–I’ve heard it said that holding back, being timid, not daring to step up and show ourselves and be responsible, is really a kind of negative conceit.  What do you think?

Comments

  1. As a 71 year old, extremely satisfied with where my life is now, I have a nagging feeling of having missed spreading my wings. In my 20s I raised my family in an authoritarian cultish church, The Worldwide Church of God. When I got the courage and self awareness to leave both the Church and my family, I soon replace that dedication with a infatuation with Libertarianism particularly politics.

    The sanity I have today I must credit with 2 1/2 years of psychotherapy topped off with a marriage to wonderful woman who has demonstrated the fine points of maintaining relationships. But, ….

    I have that nagging feeling that I bypassed the ‘owning the lifeforce’ phase fearing that I would loose all that I have accomplished in relationship wisdom. I’ve often thought of my life as being a draught horse teamed with a pegasus. The draught horse won, but not much regret. An interesting thought that I have a negative conceit. Promise to think about it.

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    • A draft horse teamed with a pegasus–what a powerful image, Ken. I know what you mean. And I’ve heard it said that this is the human position, between the animal and the angel (and a pegasus is a kind of angel horse). Perhaps being really alive is feeling this pull in both direction–to be completely in either one is to be lost to our full humanity. Perhaps.

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  2. “I’ve heard it said that holding back, being timid, not daring to step up and show ourselves and be responsible, is really a kind of negative conceit. What do you think?” Yes, absolutely. Someone once told me that self denigration is just reverse pride, and I couldn’t agree more. Women, in particular, put themselves down as as show of humility, i.e., “You did great! Oh, I really didn’t have much to do with it.” It’s just the flip side of bragging, and it’s all about guarding our hearts.

    One of the reasons I lean toward believing in reincarnation is it makes sense to me that you can’t escape the earthly bond of ego (both positive and negative) and merge with the Divine until you let go of this conceit. Excellent post. Thank you

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  3. Thanks, Diane. What you say is true! Women in particular can take a perverse pride in putting themselves down. It is about guarding the heart, and it’s a seething, unhappy place to be. I’ve also heard–often–that shyness is really a fear of judgement, including our own relentless self-judgements and other judgements. How rare it is to be in a state of non judgemental awareness, a state of acceptance of what is arising.

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  4. Hi Jeyna, Holding back, not giving in to reactions, can be a conscious act. One can be quiet and alert, creating a space in a sitation. This is not easy, and not at all the same thing as “hiding your light under a bushel.” Thanks for this important reminder!

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  5. Hi Tracy,
    Would negative conceit have anything to do with the false power of “feeling sorry for oneself”? As an epileptic, I vaguely remember taking an almost perverse pleasure in the suffering I experienced, as almost a form of “pseudo-masochistic” pride.
    Also, could Jane’s confrontation be acting as a form of auto-initiation? Dr. Samuel Gill somewhat speaks to this in his article “Disenchantment”, Vol. 1, Issue 3 of Parabola, Summer 1976, pg. 6: “Childhood and it’s associations die for the initiate, and he is reborn into his adulthood having to accept both the privileges and responsibilities of this new life”. If we couple this with what Nick said about the inner quest last Wednesday: “What could be more heroic than opening to reality and acquiring the wisdom to function within it as a human being rather than a slave to mechanical necessity?”, then, is the decision to take the inner quest a somewhat subconscious decision to become the initiate that ultimately ends childhood to become fully human? As Mark Boal said in the current issue of Parabola, pg. 63 “…even though fiction is by definition not real, it can paradoxically create an environment of truth – telling on a metaphysical scale”.
    Peace,
    Lewis

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  6. Hi Lewis,

    I agree with all the points you raise. I think Jane was beginning to initiate herself with that moment–although there would be a long journey ahead. And here is yet another perspective to consider. A false sense of self is a hindrance. Opening to reality and aquiring the wisdom to function within it requires letting go of who we think we are. Consider this thought from a Buddhist teacher:

    This sense of “bad me” comes from not understanding the view of selflessness that is so central to the Buddhist path. Understanding that there is no solid, singular, or permanent “me” makes it possible to accommodate whatever arises in life without feeling so intimidated by our experience, without rolling over like a defeated dog in a dogfight. We can see that things arise due to our karma playing itself out and that it does not necessarily have to be so personal. In this way we can identify with something greater—which is our nature itself. From this perspective, since there is no solid, singular, permanent self, there’s not going to be a “bad” self to feel guilty about. Mind is innocent but influenced by ignorance and wrong conceptual beliefs that project a self. But there is no self.

    –Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

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